Planning Grant: Engineering Research Center for Intelligent Sensing, Mapping, and Forecasting of Water Quality for Sustainable Coastal Ecosystems (iCoast)

Principal Investigator: Swarup Bhunia

Co-PI: Tara Sabo-Attwood, Christine Angelini, David Kaplan, Aditya Singh

Sponsor: NSF

Start Date: September 1, 2019

End Date: August 31, 2020

Amount: $100,000


Water quality degradation at the coast threatens environmental and human health, with impacts through direct exposure (e.g., cyanobacterial blooms that create neurotoxins, microbial water- borne diseases, metals, and other carcinogens). Water quality degradation also threatens health through indirect exposure through contaminated seafood or deteriorated ecosystems that no longer sustainably provide clean air, water, and food. These water quality issues directly affect 40% of the global human population that lives near the coast and is exposed to coastal waters. In the context of climate change and the impending sea level rise, it is imperative to take steps mitigating the growing vulnerability of coastal ecosystems and coastal communities This can be done through a better understanding the sources, fate, and transport of pollutants to the coast. A better understanding of how they affect public health and welfare and respond to both natural phenomena and human interventions is also critical. The Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Intelligent Sensing, Mapping, and Forecasting of Water Quality for Sustainable Coastal Ecosystems (iCoast) seeks to revolutionize the monitoring and management of coastal waters by integrating widespread, real-time, multi-scale monitoring with existing and novel public health data streams to map and forecast threats to environmental and human health.

The iCoast planning grant will be used to bring together diverse experts from the domains of coastal ecology and restoration, watershed hydrology, public health, sensor and data science, artificial intelligence, and smart networked systems. The planning grant will pursue a well-defined set of activities, including a survey and two workshops. The state of Florida with its vast coastline and increasing coastal population is an appropriate location to perform this work and the proposing team includes researchers long focused on coastal ecology and water quality and well-connected to stakeholders. These experts will identify knowledge gaps, education and training needs, ways to broaden participation, and promising technology solutions for dependable, efficient, sustainable coastal water systems. It will leverage previous NSF and institutional investment in smart systems, coastal/estuarine science and engineering, and public health to modernize the workforce and produce long-term solutions to water quality problems. Continuous and effective chemical and microbial monitoring of water quality in coastal areas as well as in upstream watersheds requires deep integration of basic science and engineering and convergence of knowledge from multiple disciplines, innovative experimental platforms and tools, and well-designed studies leading to new scientific understanding on complex relationships between humans the marine environment. While it poses tremendous challenges, it also illustrates the scale of opportunity for an ERC focused on coastal water quality that can address one of the most pressing problems in modern society.

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